Abraham was a man of faith who followed Almighty God even in the most challenging of circumstances. Abraham obeyed God and God blessed him with a son in his old age, even though at times Abraham compromised God's instructions.
One by one, Abraham took pieces of wood he had cut, stacking them on his young son's back. He made sure he had kindling twigs as well. Then he slipped his knife into his belt, took the torch from his servant and began walking up the steep slope of the mountain; just he and the boy.
Then almost as an afterthought, he turned and said to his servants as they prepared to follow, "We will worship and then we will come back to you."
Abraham and Isaac walked along in silence. Since they had left on their journey three days before, Isaac could tell that something was troubling his father. The spontaneity and camaraderie that marked their relationship was gone. Conversation had seemed strained and wooden, almost mechanical, as if rehearsed.
Unknown to Isaac, the day before they left home, Almighty God had ordered Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering on one of the mountains. Abraham had waited a lifetime for this son. Now that he received him, God was asking the most terrible sacrifice a man could imagine, a sacrifice that seemed to contradict the promise God made so many years before, to give him a son and heir, to make of him a nation uniquely blessed in his own descendants.
Along the journey, Isaac did not have the courage to ask if anything was wrong. In fact, something told him that this awkward silence had something to do with him, so it was best left unexplored. He would learn soon enough.
"Father," Isaac finally said as they made their way up the trail.
"Yes, my son."
"The fire and wood are here ... but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
Like sharpened spears, the words of Isaac must have plunged themselves deeply into Abraham, deepening his distress - even panic - but he was not going to let his son in on any notion of uncertainty. Mustering all the courage he could, Isaac's father speaks, "God himself will provide."
When the old man and his son reached this spot God told Abraham about, they stopped. Propping the burning torch against a rock, he took the wood from Isaac's back and carefully laid it out over a heap of stones to form an altar. Neither of them spoke, but the emotion of the moment must have been overwhelming. God himself will provide. God himself will provide. God himself will provide. The cadence of this assurance repeated itself in Abraham's mind as he put the wood in place.
Pulling the thong from his sandal, Abraham nodded toward his only son. Silently and without resistance, the boy stepped forward. With the leather string, Abraham tied his son's hands together and lifted him on to the altar.
Did God not promise? Abraham must have reviewed God's promise as he removed his knife from its sheath. Your wife Sarah will bear you a son.... l will establish my covenant with him for his descendants after him. And then he must have wondered. How can this be if this covenant son is dead?"
Extending his arm above the boy, Abraham lifted the knife, ready to plunge it into the chest of his precious and beloved son.
God himself will provide, Abraham breathed one last time.
"Abraham, Abraham!' The words came from an emissary of the sovereign God, literally shaking the ground. "Here I am," Abraham responded. His arm did not move. "Do not lay a hand on the boy ... Do not do anything to him." The sinews in Abraham's arm released as it collapsed to his
aide, the knife dropping harmlessly to the ground, barely missing his sandal foot.
"Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."
At that moment Abraham looked and saw a ram that had tangled its horns in a nearby thicket. He walked to the bush, released the ram and brought it back to the altar. Picking up his knife, Abraham cut the strap that held Isaac bound.
The boy crawled down from the stone altar as his father laid the ram on the spot where Isaac had been lying. Pulling the sharp knife across the animal's throat, Abraham and Isaac, father and son, watched as the ram's blood spilled down the wood and onto the ground.
God himself had provided.
Again God's messenger speaks in an audible voice. "Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore .... All nations shall be blessed because you obeyed me."
Once the sacrifice had been finished, the final embers extinguished, Abraham and his son descended the mountain. Going down hill is always easier than climbing up, but without the burden of the wood and the anguish of heart, the ease of the downward slope even more wonderful. Abraham's obedience would be bountifully rewarded.
The life of Abraham is a study in fidelity, obedience and trust. It is, also more importantly, a story of our heavenly Father who keeps his covenant promises. He cannot violate himself. He does not violate himself.
Abram, later named Abraham, and his wife Sarai, afterwards renamed Sarah, lived in Haran where Abraham was a prosperous livestock owner. By all accounts he was comfortable. But an order from the living God changed all that.
"Leave your country and your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you." God did not mince words. He did not even ask Abraham to consider moving. He told him to go. And to make it even more of a challenge, God did not specify Abraham's destination. He only said, "Go." And then God made Abraham a solemn promise, "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you."
It is impossible to consider how absolutely shocking this news was to Abraham. And when Sarah heard Abraham's report of what God said, she must have been overwhelmed. "Leave our home? Go on a journey to nowhere? Have children even though we are obviously barren?"
But Sarah trusted Abraham about as much as Abraham trusted God. They said good-bye to their families and, along with their nephew, Lot, their possessions and a caravan of servants, they set out southwest toward Canaan, the area where Abraham's descendants would call "home" to this day.
Time and again, throughout his entire lifetime, God strengthened Abraham's resolve to obey him. And time and again, God re confirmed his promise to Abraham in a land, a nation and gracious blessing.
Abraham is the most revered of the patriarchs. His name and God's promise of a nation were even recalled as the ever-Virgin Mary accepts her call to be the mother of Jesus. "God has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever even as he promised."
But the place of Abraham in history is not only well established because of the millions who count themselves his offspring in faith to God's first shown love. Nor is Abraham honored because he is a perfect man. He wasn't! Abraham is the most significant patriarch because of God's call and covenant with him and Abraham's remarkable courage to be obedient.
What did it mean for Abraham to be continually confirmed in faith by God? Others call it testing, but God already knew how he would respond. He wanted Abraham to experience what it means to be faithful to the Creator and then to be affirmed in that conviction. Have you even felt God was strengthening your faith response by offering you an alternative to pursue which you did not before hand consider? By commanding Abraham to sacrifice his "only son," "the son whom you love," God seemed to be both emphasizing the difficulty of what He was asking and contradicting the promise He made to Abraham. Because they are so astounding, who has not had difficulty believing God's promises? What in Abraham's story can help us believe and obey God regardless of our circumstances? How many similarities scan you find between the story of Abraham and Isaac and the story of our heavenly Father and Jesus? Does this not show not only the beginning of an unbreakable covenant between man and God as well as its like fulfillment in the ended redemption? What was begun with Abraham and Isaac is concluded with the eternal Father in Jesus!
Put yourself in the place of Abraham. Consider how difficult his obedience must have been because there was no precedent for it in human history. Then consider the relief and joy as Isaac is spared. How, then has the provision of God affected and enriched your life? Have you given the Lord an opportunity to reveal himself to you? Or did you never experience it because you have not made yourself usable to our God?
Faith runs along the lines of God's promises. In other words our faith will not be disappointed if we put it to work in connection with the promises God has clearly made. But God's promises have conditions attached to them. How do we find that evident in the story of Abraham and as we apply it to our own lives?
When God told Abraham to take Isaac atop Mount Moriah for sacrifice, it means the place of provision by Yahweh. Centuries later in tying the history of salvation and sacrifice together, Solomon builds the temple in Jerusalem on the very same spot which is just a few hundred feet from the spot where Christ was raised on the Cross and sacrificed himself for our salvation.
More than any other Old Testament figure, the story of Abraham is linked with the promises of God. He leaves his homeland because God promises to give him another. He is amazed when God promises him a son at the age of one hundred, especially since his wife Sarah, will be ninety when she delivers and gives birth! He leads his son up the mountain to be sacrificed even though this child is the living embodiment of God's promise. As a result of his faith, he sees the incredible provision of God. As a result of his obedience, Abraham becomes the father, not just of one child or even one nation, but of a multitude of people across time and space, as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand of the seashore.
Does not our heavenly Father, through Christ and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, speak similarly to us, "I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you, I will curse" Genesis 12: 1, 3; "Through your offspring, all nations on earth will be blessed, because you obeyed me" Genesis 22: 18.